“Will it stand the light of day?” asked the sow bug?

Home Inspector with Charles Buell Inspections Inc.


Home inspectors look for clues to hidden conditions. 

Sow BugsFor example using a very bright flashlight at a tight angle to scan across a wall or ceiling surface is indispensible in evaluating interior spaces.  Such scanning can find indications of crappy drywall installations, previous repairs to the surfaces, closed-in windows and swelling related to water leaks.  This one technique can save an inspector a lot of embarrassment later---even while displaying conditions that are “normal” in the seemingly unfavorable light of the bright flashlight. 

Agents sometimes grimace a bit when I use this technique, because even normal drywall unevenness will show up under the bright light.  Sometimes a little education on what a normal drywall surface looks like is necessary to calm the buyer and the agent, but this is usually not difficult and most appreciate the kinds of information that can be discovered with this approach. 

I am sure we have all witnessed the sun shining across a wall or ceiling at this same sort of tight angle displaying for the first time all the drywall seams and nail pops and sunken fasteners---that previously were “invisible.”  All kinds of smooth-wall finishes have some sort of “signature” under bright light.

The inspector can read these signatures to obtain important information as to the condition of the home.  This approach is a “known” source of information---a known method of looking for clues.

But, the inspector must be vigilant and ever mindful that sometimes new clues present themselves that can give fair warning as to possible hidden conditions.  Such a clue presented itself to me at an inspection recently.  I often find sow bugs in the cobwebs and dust bunnies of closet corners.  I would typically note that their presence can often mean there is some wood decay rot present “somewhere” nearby, as these kinds of conditions are what sow bugs love.

In a similar vein, what is an inspector to conclude when several earthworms are noted squirming across the finished basement floors in several areas?

Earthworm on the basement carpet 

“It is a safe bet,” the sow bugs say, “That there is a nice compost bin hidden ‘somewhere’ behind those finished walls.”

On this day the flash light  did not reveal the hiding place of the compost bin---but in time it may.


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle


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Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Scary stuff Charles.

May 01, 2012 10:39 AM #1
George Bennett
Inactive - Port Orford, OR
Inactive Principal Broker, GRI

Thanks for posting and for sharing your techniques bringing these problems to light.

May 01, 2012 11:18 AM #2
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

Oh my-- something may be better left in the dark.

May 01, 2012 11:39 AM #3
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

Perfectly normal, perfectly healthy.  I'm assuming this was a doghouse, right?

May 01, 2012 11:49 AM #4
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Charles -- if the sellers are not avid fishermen whose bait got out, this is not a good sign regarding the health of the walls.

May 01, 2012 11:49 AM #5
Kathleen Daniels
KD Realty - 408.972.1822 - San Jose, CA
San Jose Homes for Sale-Probate & Trust Specialist

Charles, While I may not fully understand the conditions .... I do understand that worms inside a home is not a good thing!

May 01, 2012 12:06 PM #6
Paul Duffau
Safe@Home Inspections, LLC in SE Washington - Asotin, WA
Caring for People, Educating about Homes

I've had a few clients tell me later that they never noticed the drywall seams until I pointed them out - and then couldn't "stop seeing" them because they knew they were there.  Eventually that effect wears off.....but they get to keep the info you give them.  Nice post, Charles.

May 01, 2012 12:41 PM #7
Jim Patton
Century 21 M&M - 209-404-0816 - Turlock, CA
Realtor - Stanislaus & Merced county Realtor.

Charles - I would think that even the novice home buyer would raise a few questions after seeing the worm in the basement.  That is one big, well fed earthworm.  

May 01, 2012 01:43 PM #8
Mike McCann - Nebraska Farm Land Broker
Mike McCann - Broker, Farmland Broker-Auctioneer Serving Rural Nebraska - Kearney, NE
Farm Land For Sale 308-627-3700 or 800-241-3940

Every once in a while we will have a very small centipede sneaking across our basement floor and I have tried and tried to find from where they come from to no avail...But a Nightcrawler like you have shown is huge!!! Glad we do not have those.

May 01, 2012 02:19 PM #9
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Sheila, it was pretty strange seeing earthworms crawling all over the finished basement floors

George, you are welcome

Joan, I know what you mean :)

Reuben---Uncle Fred's fishing cabin actually :)

Steven, not a fisherman in sight and vacant for more than 6 months.

Kathleen that is the way I felt about it as well :)

Paul, sometimes this kind of knowledge is unavoidable---nice to see you here

Jim, they were very healthy indeed.  Here is another picture of one---that was "bookin" across the pergo

earthworm out of place

May 01, 2012 02:21 PM #10
Jane Peters
Home Jane Realty - Los Angeles, CA
Connecting you to the L.A. real estate market

O.K.  I have the creepy crawlies, Charlie.   

May 01, 2012 02:28 PM #11
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Charlie, That is some fun stuff there. Yeah the old drywall will never be seen the same once you done that.

May 01, 2012 02:55 PM #12
Pamela Seley
West Coast Realty Division - Murrieta, CA
Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA

I didn't know that's what those little bugs were called. I've seen them before. Now I know why they might be around! Thanks for your post today,

May 01, 2012 05:35 PM #13
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Yummie!  Did it taste like chicken?

I have to say, I have never seen a worm in a house before!  Great find that one!  And compost bin for sure!

May 01, 2012 08:02 PM #14
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

There are many clues in a house that give an indication of probable unseen bad things happening. 

May 01, 2012 10:34 PM #15
Kathryn Maguire
GreatNorfolkHomes.com (757) 560-0881 - Chesapeake, VA
Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach

Ooh!  That is really disgusting. You would think that the sellers would have done something about that. I would not put up living with worms in the house!

May 01, 2012 10:41 PM #16
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


I have never seen a sow bug or an earthworm in a house. Something to look forward to, I guess.  You keep us on our toes.  Thanks.

May 02, 2012 09:34 AM #17
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I've been thinking about your metaphor and decided that the early worm gets to reap what it sows?

Where does the bird come in?  To bug everyone else?

May 02, 2012 08:29 PM #18
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